Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Following shark attack, people question how to prevent another one

QUESTIONS surrounding the cause of shark attacks are once again rising to the fore after Achmat Hassiem (24), a lifesaver with the False Bay Lifesaving Club, lost his foot in a shark attack during lifesaving exercises at Sunrise Beach on Sunday morning.

Graham Lewis, chairperson of the False Bay Lifesaving Club, was quoted as blaming chumming in the area for changing the behaviour of sharks, an assertion contested by shark researcher Alison Kock.

"Chumming had nothing to do with this incident or any other shark attack," Kock says. "When Lyle Maasdorp's kayak was attacked two weeks ago at Sunny Cove, we chummed the water afterwards to try and attract that shark. We needed to tag it in order to monitor its movements and prevent simi?lar attacks from taking place.

"This was ten days ago. We made sure the currents would carry the chum out to open waters and had people stationed at all the beaches in the area to ensure no-one entered the surf during the operation. Despite these efforts, we didn't succeed in attracting a single shark.

"It is ridiculous to suggest chumming attracts sharks or changes their behaviour. The sharks are already here. We are only attempting to study why. People are entering the shark's habitat and should take responsibility for their actions," Kock says.

Gregg Oelofse, the City of Cape Town's representative on the Shark Working Group, agrees with Kock, saying that blame for attacks cannot be assigned to factors such as chumming or shark cage diving.

"A report on bather versus shark safety will be released very soon but the sad fact is there isn't really a solution to these attacks. Everyone knows False Bay is a hunting ground for great white sharks. Environmentally speaking, shark-nets are not an option as whales and dolphins get entangled in them. They have also been found to be ineffective when dealing with great whites. As unfortunate as it is, sometimes attacks just happen."

He did, however, confirm that the city is considering placing a moratorium on the number of cage di?ving licenses issued as well as pla?cing stricter controls on operators conducting cage diving tours.

On the other hand, questions about the wisdom of conducting training exercises in the notoriously dangerous stretch of beach near the Sunrise Circle river mouth have been raised by witnesses to the attack.

"I can't understand how they could go and swim near that river mouth," says Surfer Nick Vink. "As lifesavers they should have known to stay away from the area."

Paul Botha, local surf guru and director of Life's a Beach Communications, confirmed that every surfer knows not to surf near the river mouth. "A surfer lost his leg in that very area two years ago when the council opened the river mouth. The recent rains we had caused a strong river flow into the ocean, which churns up food for little fish. This, in turn, attracts big fish, which will eventually probably draw sharks," Botha says.

The lifesaving training during which Hassiem was attacked took place too far out to sea for the shark spotters to monitor. When People's Post tried to elicit comment on the particulars of the exercise, club chairperson Graham Lewis declined to comment.


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